Lets cut to the chase, shall we?

Social Media Week London has been and gone and I’ve heard a lot of the same statements over and over again. Brands need to be reactive. We need an always on strategy. Conversation is the most valuable content. Tweet this. Vine that. Real time brand chat. Snapchat’s gonna be big. Content, content, CONTENT.

I think we all understand the principles of what needs to be done but what may actually be more useful is a quick look at the structures to actually deliver reactive content at scale, continuously.

Through the recent delivery of a variety of campaigns, here are some key learnings and observations

1. Get DIY.

First of all, accept the chaos. When my son was born, my house started to look like a motorway lay by. After a period of twitching, I accepted it and things got better, at least in my own head.

In case you hadn’t noticed, there is a bit of a land grab going on at the moment as to who in the stakeholder set up owns social content.

  • Creative agencies were a bit slow off the mark, perhaps as the tickets for this type of thing were smaller than big TV led stuff. Perhaps because it required a different talent set up to deliver the required output. They're beginning to move at a lick now though.
  • Media agencies are all about scale and light touch. They have departments or sister agencies in the building now who can undertake social content but they’re still getting staffing and models fixed up.
  • In the context of advertising undergoing a macro dichotomy of ‘MADTECH’ ( Marketing, Advertising, Technology ) being the vehicle and ‘SOCIAL/CONTENT/PR’ being the stuff that is delivered on the vehicle, PR companies have also found themselves in the mix.
  • There are excellent specialist social content companies like our own, That Lot, who bring creative AND platform expertise to the party.
  • There are media owners too, like the national press or online megasites, who understand their audiences and how to communicate to them very well, because its been their business all along.
  • And then of course, there are the pioneering clients who already have internal teams creating content for their active social feeds.

Which is confusing, yeah? What my experience has told me is that there are no shortage of smart people across all of these organisations who ‘get’ the challenge. Whats slowing it up? The structures.

So, to come back to getting DIY. By this, I mean use the tools at your disposal as a brand to get the process moving. Of course, I’d always initially advocate talking to experts like our good selves at That Lot but frankly, kick starting the desperately needed communications overhaul is the priority here.

You may have a grad who is sharp as a knife and all over a variety of newsfeeds all day. They’ll have a clear idea of what brands they give a shit about in social, and why they do. Harness them to gather data and sell ideas upwards. Perhaps start very slowly colloquialising the feeds.

Whichever agency you work with most closely on this will have formed relationships with people like us at That Lot or have staff who have time to ideate and create for you outside of their busy day to day account activity. Challenge them about processes and output.

The overarching point here is that if you wait for the whole system to change, you’ll be way behind the curve.

2. Create sign off tunnels

As I’ve said in a previous post, social brand content requires movement at the speed of culture. Thats a big ask. Firstly, its the antithesis of the polished way in which brands have wanted their content to arrive in the public eye. Secondly, corporate and inter stakeholder company processes simply can’t keep up. While the oil tanker is turning around, the weather has completely changed. A tweet about Iain Watters storming off #GBBO is funny for about 10 minutes in real time.

So how can we try and get over this? Well we’ve been creating ‘sign off tunnels’. Basically, a pre planned way of connecting the stakeholders required to get creative from insight to activation in the shortest possible time. If this is planned, and the necessary people briefed properly then we’ve found it perfectly possible to be reactive to events in real time.

In terms of practical advice on that, the DIY thing has been very useful again. Analytics tools, Google Docs, WhatsApp groups and Skype have all played a part in a real time collaborative sign off process.

3. Start the discussion about brand guideline and brand safety overhauls

The magnificent Vine artist, Iain Padgham said in an interview with an old colleague, ‘break every one of your damn brand guidelines’.

I agree with the sentiment but its perhaps a bit strong. What is required is a reworking of what brand safety and brand guidelines mean. There are a few points here.

  • Baby steps. Its a bit teenagery to petulantly expect companies to rip up the rule book on the spot because a bunch of guys with beards say so. With an understanding that we all want the brand to achieve the best success whilst minimising risk, I’ve found that the win is to pick small, safer executions which are going to demonstrate success. It is from precisely these demonstrative projects that we can build the processes for a new set of guidelines. In fact, in one recent project which took place over 3 months, the client themselves were pushing us to be more risque by month 2.
  • Get this on the agenda. I don’t have an answer to this issue - and I suspect that its going to be very different from client to client. However, its completely clear from the interest in this area that all brands want to be able to play in social content. To that end, its beholden upon clients to push up through their marketing top brass to corporate and educate about what is happening here. A 2 tier ‘danger level’ from legal in terms of polished vs social output? An always on legal counsel? Whatever the outcome, if brands can’t play effectively in social content, at some point its going to hit the bottom line.
  • I have said before that content shock is rife. As a result, its important that content is unpolished and has spiky edges so that it catches the attention of consumers in social environments, rather than smoothly passing through unnoticed. Content created for lean back media like TV had the luxury of being put in front of people while they were consuming it. In social it needs to demand attention or merit sharing with peers. The fundamentals of legacy brand safety are at odds with this new social content requirement.
  • Which brings me to a perhaps, sensationalist point. It may actually be irresponsible for brand guardians to be too prescriptive in content guidelines as it can adversely affect brand perceptions and sales. In old school sales terms, thats called pushing the bruise.

4. Planned spontanaity vs reactivity

With every campaign we undertake, we’re now beginning to see a correlation between brands who have more stringent brand guidelines and campaigns which have a higher amount of ‘planned spontanaity’ vs reactivity.

By planned spontanaity, I mean an understanding of a thing that is going to happen and the ability to get written, image or video output prepared to respond to that.

We know that #GBBO is going to be on and it’ll be biscuit week ( sorry I’m not obsessed by #GBBO, its just sprung to mind a lot today - perhaps its because I look a bit like Iain Watters ) therefore its pretty easy to create content which will speak to that.

There are a lot of benefits to this. One can follow pared down brand safety measures, spend time on coming up with a good piece of content which can gain traction through its ingenuity. All while riding the wave of topicality, socials prevailing wind.

When Germany were drubbing Brazil in the World Cup semi final, like many others, I had ‘The joy of sechs #BRAvsGER’ lined up after goal 3. Its easy to plan for what might happen.

Adidas had a VAST bank of content at the ready for the World Cup at the extreme end of this as a more professional example.

Reactivity is the scary stuff. Well, for the lawyers and brand guardians at least. In the here and now of the processes of all this being defined, its often prudent to focus more on planned than real time.

5. A redefinition of collaboration

Finally, this word. Collaboration. I really hate it because its been overused a lot in the last couple of years. Mainly in the context of simply not being true. Sticking a group of stakeholders in a room who can’t bear or trust each other to service the client is not collaboration.

In the points I’ve covered above, it has required very frank and open relationships to execute. Companies don’t do deals, people do and its precisely those people who’ve made the campaigns we’ve worked on successful. Through an understanding that we’re collectively having to write a new rule book. Through a desire to do good work that sets the precedent for bigger and better opportunities. Hells bells, through having a bit of fun in what can often be a stressful process.

Barney Worfolk-Smith is a director at That Lot, a social content company who create output of all kinds for brands in social as well as the brand experiences and stories that link them together. You’ll find him tweeting @mightybarnski and can reach him barney@thatlot.co.uk.